Hemel Storm are through to the national championship playoff semi-finals after their pulsating upset victory in Southampton on Sunday.
Hemel, No 7 seeds, defeated the No 2 seed Solent Kestrels 82-72 in the biggest surprise of the weekend’s fixtures.
Hemel will now play at Sportspace this Saturday (tip-off 7pm) against Reading Rockets for a place in the championship final.
The venue at St Mary’s Leisure Centre on Sunday was packed and included several hundred Storm fans who had travelled to support their team against a talented Kestrels side that Hemel had lost to twice in the National League Division One regular season.
Solent, who won the National Trophy earlier this season, had the same win-loss (20-4) record as league champions Loughborough Riders but just missed out on the title because of their head-to-head results.
They were clear favourites to advance against seventh-placed Hemel and had only lost one league game on their own floor this term.
But from the tip-off Storm signalled their intent and shocked the home team by jumping to a 15-8 early lead with a new-look ‘twin towers’ starting five that included 7ft centre Lee Greenan and 6ft 9ins inch forward Tom Adorian alongside their captain and mercurial point guard Bode Adeluola, American star AJ Roberts and the young utility player Michael Darlow.
Club stalwart Adorian, who is in his sixth season with Hemel, was outstanding at both ends of the court and recorded an impressive double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds
All five of Storm’s starters scored in the opening quarter and it took a time-out by the hosts’ coach Matt Guyman mid-way through the period to settle his team.
Solent gradually clawed the deficit back after three-pointers from Elliot Dadds and Tayo Oyefusi and they only trailed 18-23 at the end of the opening period.
But Hemel were playing inspired basketball, executing well on offence, hustling on defence and grabbing numerous rebounds from Solent’s pressured missed shots.
“We just didn’t like the way we’d lost to them at home a couple of weeks ago in the league,” Hemel coach Robert Youngblood said afterwards.
“They played harder than us that night and that’s just not acceptable at our club, especially in front of our own great fans, so although we did prepare well and make some crucial technical adjustments for the game, I think we were just mentally and physically tougher than the last time we played them.
“Our team attitude was fantastic.”
After the 101-87 home defeat coach Youngblood had remained positive and said at the time: “We’ll re-group, get our injuries and niggles sorted out and prepare for when we see them again in a couple of weeks in the playoffs.
“We have a great opportunity to make amends.”
A key player returning from injury for Storm was Dave Ajumobi who took to the court in the second period on Sunday after missing the home clash with Kestrels.
As the teams traded baskets, Ajumobi scored seven of his 14 points, including a three-pointer, and helped contain and frustrate Solent’s talented American Joe Tagarelli, who had poured in 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the previous game.
Here, Tagarelli was restricted to just 14 points and five boards.
Storm went into the locker room at half-time with a slim 40-35 lead but just four minutes after the re-start Kestrels, led by US guard and eventual top-scorer Herman Senor (27 points, seven assists), had gone on a 13 -2 run to lead 48-42.
A Storm time-out righted the ship as top-scorer Roberts (19 points, six assists) and Darlow combined for eight points without reply to put their team back in front 50-48.
Like two prize-fighters, each side landed blows to take single-point leads in the closing minutes of the quarter but it ended with Adorian sinking a jump-shot and two free-throws to restore Storm’s edge at 58-55.
With three minutes left in the game, Kestrel Jake Eynon nailed a long triple to put Solent 69-66 ahead but in a deafening atmosphere, Hemel’s tenacious lock-down defence took over at the right time.
Solent came up empty on a series of crucial possessions while Hemel – sparked by seven points from Adeluola – went on a 13-0 run that sealed a famous upset victory.
As the final buzzer sounded ,Hemel’s supporters rushed onto the court to celebrate a hard-earned but well-deserved win and a place in the final four of the playoffs.
In the other quarter-finals on Sunday, league champions Loughborough Riders only just beat Manchester Magic 73-71 after overtime.
Hemel’s next opponents Reading Rockets defeated Bradford 89-78.
And Worthing Thunder won 98-89 against Team Northumbria.
Loughborough will face Worthing in the other semi-final this weekend.
Storm will play Reading Rockets at Sportspace this Saturday, with the game tipping-off at 7pm.
For tickets or further information, visit the website www.stormbasketball.net.
Storm team and scorers v Solent: AJ Roberts 19, Dave Ajumobi 14, Bode Adeluola 14, Tom Adorian 11, Lee Greenan 10, Wayne Yeboah 8, Michael Darlow 6, Ladi Brown, Jack Burnell, Chuck Duru, Courtney Van-Beest and Walid Mumuni.